This is my first Supernatural fic. As I devoured the episodes and fell in love with the characters, I became fascinated with the complex and conflict-ridden relationship between John and his boys, Specifically, wondered what led up to the rift between them that sent Sam off to Stanford and left Dean with his father, despite all his misgivings. Also, I couldn't let go of the idea that the things that the boys seemed to take for granted as part of their lifestyle, like digging up graves and carrying around all that weaponry, were downright illegal, not to mention pretty demented, to the uninitiated onlooker. And then... what would happen to the boys if John wasn't around for a time? How would they survive? Add to that a nice, creepy urban legend from the '90s and we're good to go.
One more thing: I know that fanon accepts the idea that Bobby had a long-standing relationship with John and the boys, from the time they were young. My take on that is a little different, as you'll see. (Or: What if the boys didn't know Bobby until much later? How would that relationship develop, then?) But it's all canon-compliant in the end.
Beta'd by Professor-Fiona-Fawkes. And thanks also to Still Waters, who looked over the h/c sections for medical accuracy.
The story is complete and will be posted in seven installments over the next week. Written for the 2013 Supernatural Big Bang.
Warnings: Violence and gore. Underage M/M dubcon (male prostitution). Medical situations. And angst, obviously. You are forewarned.
Contingency Plan Part One
April 1995. Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
Dean hated digging up graves.
They'd been at the cemetery for over an hour now, taking turns with the shovel. Dean was four feet down in the grave, working in a steady rhythm: pushing the shovel into the dirt, stamping on it with his boot to force it in deeper, and heaving it over his shoulder. His father loomed above him, holding the flashlight.
"Get the lead out, Dean. I still want to get a few hours of sleep before work tomorrow."
"Dad, the ground's really damp," he said, not exactly complaining, just stating a fact. He wouldn't have minded a little sleep before school tomorrow, either, but there was no point in saying that. "I'm digging as fast as I can."
"Stop whining," John told him sharply. "If this is your fastest, we'll be here all night. And bend your legs, not your back."
He wasn't making much progress and it was pissing off his dad. The soil was packed and dense, and every time he pushed his shovel in, the impact sent an unpleasant jolt up through his shoulders. The temperature was in the mid-forties, fucking cold as far as he was concerned, even if the locals didn't seem impressed.
He hated Wisconsin. Mid-April, and it still felt like winter.
"So let's go through it again, son," his father said calmly, after another minute. "Once we hit the casket, what's the drill?"
Fuck, not this again. "C'mon, Dad, we've been through it a million times. I've got it down."
"Then you should have no trouble explaining it, one more time."
"What's to explain?" He paused in his shoveling, twisting up to roll his eyes at his father. "We salt the bones and torch the body, cover it all up and get the hell out of the cemetery before we freeze our balls off!"
"Try it again, without the attitude this time." His father's tone was deceptively mild, but Dean could hear the don't-jerk-me-around warning. "You wouldn't be complaining about the cold if you'd worn a hat like I told you, and I didn't say to stop digging, did I?"
Dad was always rehashing the basics of the job with him, testing him over and over on the most elementary facts, like he was a dumb kid who couldn't be was downright insulting. He was ready to move on to something more challenging, but his dad kept holding off, checking up on him, criticizing the smallest details. What was the point of all the drills and the training and the target practice, if the only thing he was allowed to do is carry the equipment and dig up a grave?
"I'm waiting, Dean."
"Salting and burning puts the spirit to rest." He rattled off the words in a bored monotone, guaranteed to annoy his father, but so what. "It forces the ghost to move on. The salt's a deterrent. It creates a barrier the spirit can't cross—"
"—and a purifier, don't forget. It's why we use it in…?"
"Holy water, I know. And then you burn the bones so the spirit can't anchor itself to this world anymore."
"That's right. So this ought to take care of the haunting at the Holmes place."
Dean paused to wipe the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. "I don't see what this has to do with the hunt. I thought you were looking for some kind of creature, not a ghost."
"I am, but that doesn't mean I'm going to close my eyes and ears to everything else going on around these parts. There's plenty of supernatural activity around here. I heard Don Holmes going on about some weird noises in his house, about two weeks ago, when he brought his car into the shop. He bought an old farmhouse out in Como back in February. He sounded a little spooked. Said his girls wouldn't sleep in their beds, kept crying about strange knocking sounds in the closet. Thought I'd look into it."
Of course. His Dad got a kick out of dealing with old haunted houses, in the same way normal people liked to solve crossword puzzles. It was his idea of an intellectual challenge.
"What'd you tell him?"
His father grinned. "Told him it was probably bats in the attic."
Dean had to laugh at that. Hunter's humor.
"So what's the story on, uh…" He glanced up at the headstone. Sarah McPhee, 1907- 1943. Beloved Wife and Mother, Tragically Taken From Us At Age 36. "Old Sally, here?"
"Actually, this one wasn't hard to put together. Didn't take more than a day's research. She fell down a flight of stairs and—ah shit, car's coming! Get down."
John flicked off the flashlight and crouched down. Dean bent his knees so just his head peaked out over the top of the grave, and looked out at the road. He could see the headlights of a car crawling by.
"Why's he going so slow?" Dean whispered. "It's one in the morning, what's he doing out here anyway?"
"Quiet!" John hissed at him. The car slowed down to a halt for nearly a minute, then picked up speed again and moved off.
"False alarm," Dean said with a laugh of relief, just as his father muttered "Damn it!"
"He's gone, Dad. Probably just some guy on his way home from a bar, stopped to puke on the side of the road."
John frowned. "That's possible, but… We need to finish up and get out of here. Switch places with me, Dean, we've got no more time to waste."
Gee, thanks, Dad. Sorry for wasting your time like that.
He hoisted himself up and took the flashlight from his dad. "Fine with me. I could use a break."
John gave him an appraising look before jumping down into the grave.
Admitting weakness to his father was always a tactical error.
"A little digging shouldn't take so much out of you," his father told him, grabbing the shovel. "Looks like we need to work a little more on your upper body strength. Step up your training a notch."
He kept the resentment out of his voice, but… step up his training, holy God. His dad's training regimen was already brutal. Up at dawn six days a week for endless sets of push-ups, pull-ups, and crunches, followed by a run, plus sparring sessions and weapons training on the weekends.
But there was no point in protesting. John had learned his parenting skills from the Marine Corps Drill Manual.
As if to drive his point home, his father began digging with machine-like efficiency, setting a pace Dean couldn't hope to match. "The cops are getting a little edgy, from what I hear, sending out more nighttime patrols," he said, apparently having no trouble keeping up a conversation while he dug. "A guy said he got a glimpse of the creature last week near Delavan, and there've been more animal killings in the area. Dogs clawed up real bad, that sort of thing."
The "creature" was actually a local celebrity. Elkhorn residents call it the Beast of Bray Road, after the stretch of road where witnesses claimed to have seen it. They were actually proud of their little piece of supernatural lore, which had made headlines in the area newspapers a few years back. Privately, Dean thought Elkhorn was just so boring that the Beast gave the locals something to talk about. He was pretty sure that if his father managed to kill it, the town would be disappointed.
"Kids in my class think it's Bigfoot. Or maybe a werewolf."
His father let out a noise that was part grunt, part laugh. "You don't believe that crap, I hope. Bigfoot's a hoax, I've told you before. As for it being a werewolf…" He shook his head. "One thing I'm sure of is that these attacks have nothing to do with the phases of the moon."
"What else do you know?"
"Not too much," his father huffed out, never breaking stride. "Got some theories, done some research. Been interviewing the witnesses, but that takes time."
There's your opening, he thought, now or never.
"I could… I could go with you, if you want. On interviews."
He paused to check his father's response. John was frowning slightly. "Or stakeouts," he continued, his confidence faltering. "Uh, help with the research."
"Help with the research," John said, leaning on the shovel to look back up at him in apparent disbelief. "You."
He ignored the sarcasm. "Yes, me." He waited for another beat, adding uncertainly, "Only if you wanted me to."
His father was ominously silent for another long minute, leaving him to seriously regret ever opening his mouth.
He could already guess what his dad would say. You're not cut out for this kind of work. I can't take time to babysit you while I'm on a hunt. You need to watch your brother. You'll never be—
"Let me see if I understand you, son." There was an undercurrent of derision in his father's tone, or maybe it was just amusement. Either way, he clearly wasn't taking this as seriously as Dean. "You think you're ready to learn the ropes, do something a little more complicated than draw a salt line?"
"Yes sir," he snapped out, military-style. "I'm ready."
"How about we start you out on some research, then, see how you do with that. I need to go through back issues of the local newspapers. It's all on microfiche." John gave him a neutral, questioning look, the challenge behind it clear: Can you handle the grunt work?
Microfiche, ugh. Libraries might be Sam's second home, but Dean had never been able to spend more than half an hour in one without losing interest.
Still, it was a step up from digging. "Sounds good," he said firmly.
A slow smile spread across his father's face. "Well, to tell you the truth, son," he confided, "I wouldn't object to the company. Might make the job get done faster too."
Dean grinned in startled surprise. "Really, Dad? You mean it?"
"I mean it," John said, nodding slowly. "If you can show me you can really handle the responsibility. And if we can find a time that works."
"Well, now that Sammy's all involved in soccer practice, I have a little more free time. I have to stick around till six most afternoons, waiting for him."
"I get off at three on Mondays and Wednesdays… I could swing by and pick you up at school, I guess."
"That'd work for me," he agreed. "I get out at three thirty. And… you could go watch Sammy at practice till then. He's pretty good."
"He's sure got a set of long legs on him," John admitted, a fond smile on his face. "Kid's a born runner."
"Yeah, he's pretty fast, for a dweeb."
It was an unexpected triumph. His father was unpredictable. One minute he'd be a demanding, infuriating hardass, and the next, he'd switch over to that other Dad, warm and supportive, the one he looked up to, the one who was proud of him and let him know it.
Dean didn't see him too often, these days.
The shovel finally scraped on wood. "There it is," his father said, giving him a quick nod. "All right, we're in the home stretch."
Within minutes, the coffin lay open, the desiccated bones exposed to the air, and John heaved himself up next to Dean.
He always felt a shiver of dread when the casket was opened. Something about exposing the bones to the cold night air—to say nothing of the next step, salting and burning them—always struck him as a violation of some basic right of the dead to lie undisturbed.
But his father didn't seem concerned. Didn't matter what part of the job he was performing—impersonating a journalist, teaching Dean to stitch a cut, or unearthing a decomposing corpse—he always seemed sure of himself and in control.
"First thing you have to know," Dean remembered explaining to his brother that Christmas years ago, "is that we have the coolest Dad in the world. He's a superhero."
But it sure as hell wasn't easy being the son of a superhero. Especially if you weren't even a particularly good sidekick, most of the time.
John let him do the salting—("For the love of God, it's not a turkey dinner, Dean! Use the whole bag!")—but then he took over, pouring the lighter fluid and tossing in the match. The bones burst into flame with a whoosh, bathing the two of them in a sudden flash of light.
Dean held his hands out in front of him to warm in the heat, but his father took a few steps away from the blaze, looking out toward the road and frowning.
"What's the matter, Dad?"
"We should finish up and get moving. I didn't like the looks of the car that was here before. We shouldn't stick around. I'm gonna take a leak, and then we'll get started on the cleanup. You keep watch."
After his father walked away, he let himself relax a bit. The hard part was over. It would take a few minutes for the fire to burn itself out, and then they could shovel the dirt back, clean up the gravesite, and head home to his warm bed…
…where he'd have four hours, max, to sleep before his father hauled him and Sam outside for training.
"Hey, Dad, maybe I could stay home from school tomorrow. Sleep in, you know. I'm kind of beat."
The moment the embers sputtered out, John began shoveling the dirt back into the grave with the same mechanical efficiency he showed before.
"Come on," he grumbled over his shoulder. "Ditch the flashlight. Grab the other shovel and help out."
"Uh…" Shit. "I kind of left it in the car," he said, and then steeled himself, because John was about to go ballistic.
"You what?" His father stopped digging and fixed him with the kind of glare that always made him feel about six years old. "Why would you do that?"
Because I'm an idiot. "Well… I didn't think we would need it."
"We always bring two shovels. You know that."
"But we only use one," he tried, although he knew it was futile. "The handle on the spare is loose, remember? We need to fix it. I just thought—"
"No, son, you didn't think." His father let out a put-upon sigh, which was always, in Dean's experience, a prelude to a full-on tirade. "You were in charge of equipment. If you weren't sure, you could've asked me. The reason we take two shovels is because one might break, or for when it's a two-man job. Filling up this grave is going to take twice as long without the spare, and this time we're in a fucking hurry!"
"Let me do it, Dad, I'm rested, you don't have to—"
"That's not the point!" John's voice was getting louder, and Dean could hear a creepy echo reverberating off the gravestones. "You're my backup on this job, and I have to be able to depend on you completely. If you want to take on more responsibility, like you just asked, you need to show me you're really ready to handle it!"
He felt his face heat. "I can handle it! It was just one little mistake. That doesn't mean I can't—"
"That's not your call to make! This is a dangerous job, and you have to be prepared for anything. Little or big, I can't have you making any mistakes when you're working with me."
No mistakes…Who the hell could meet that kind of standard?
"It's no problem, Dad," he said quickly. "I'll go back to the car and get the shovel!"
"You sure as hell will! Now get your ass in gear, and double time back to the car!" He fished the keys out of his pocket and practically threw them at him.
"Dad, I'm sorry—"
"I don't want to hear it. Damn it, you always…" John pinched his lips and shook his head in disgust, as if whatever he was about to say wasn't worth the effort. "Back in three, Dean. Run!"
"Yes, sir," he said stiffly.
His father's words ringing in his ears, he turned and sprinted back toward the far corner of the cemetery where they left the Impala, just outside the back wall, hidden among the trees.
"Damn it, you always…"
It wasn't hard to guess what he'd left unsaid.
You always disappoint me. You always fuck things up.
And he couldn't blame his father; leaving the spare shovel in the car had been a stupid, impulsive decision, prompted more by laziness (Why carry extra equipment we don't need?) than any sort of logical rationale.
Dad was a stickler for procedure, with everything from their before-school routine to their weekly training schedule. He didn't believe in cutting corners, and God help his sons if they tried to slack off. And his father never minced words.
Grow up, Dean.
Stop acting like you've just had a prefrontal lobotomy.
For God's sake, do you always have to act like such a fucking teenager?
All for a stupid spare shovel with a broken handle.
Minutes later—not three, more like five, because nobody alive could have run all that way and scaled the cemetery wall, twice, in the time limit his father had given him—he was racing back, weaving through the headstones with the second shovel clutched in his hand.
But when he was less than twenty yards away, his father's silhouette was suddenly lit up by the beam of a flashlight, and Dean skidded to a halt.
He dropped down into a crouch, his heart slamming against his chest. He could hear John talking to someone.
He put down the shovel and moved forward cautiously, keeping low, trying to stay mostly out of sight behind some of the larger gravestones. Who the hell would be in a cemetery at this time of night?
He crept closer. Two uniformed policemen were standing in front of his father, who was—oh fuck—caught red-handed with a shovel in his hand and old Sally's bones just gone up in smoke.
He ducked behind a large headstone, no more than six or seven yards away, close enough to hear them clearly.
"—you live around here?"
"Got a place at the Elkhorn Commons on Gorman Avenue. Been there since January."
"What're you doing with that shovel, John?" Dean hated the way the cop used his father's first name so casually.
"It's not what it looks like."
"Looks to me like somebody just dug up this grave. Was that you?"
"No sir." John sounded vaguely indignant and utterly sincere. "Why would I do that?"
"What're you doing here, then, in the middle of the night?"
"Came here to think," his father said smoothly. "You probably think it's a little weird, but cemeteries are quiet and peaceful… I like looking at the stones." His delivery was perfect: calm and just a little embarrassed.
Good one, Dad.
Dean pulled himself carefully up until just his eyes were peeking over the headstone. He couldn't make out the faces of the two cops, but he could see that one was tall and thin, and the other was more heavyset and seemed older.
"Do you do that often?" the taller one asked.
"Often enough. Different graveyards, couple times a year."
"How did you get here, sir?"
"Walked," John replied evenly. "Took less than an hour."
"Why not take your car? It's pretty chilly."
"Like I said, I just wanted to clear my head. I don't mind the cold or the walk."
Dean nodded to himself. The cops couldn't pin anything on his father as long as he didn't admit to anything. Being at the wrong place at the wrong time wasn't a crime.
"Are you employed, John?"
"I'm a mechanic at Elkhorn Auto."
"So what were you doing with the shovel?"
John spread his hands and shrugged, as if to say: There's a simple explanation for all this. "I was way over on the west side of the cemetery, but I saw a big flash of light here, like a fire, and came over to investigate. By the time I got here, whoever'd done it was gone. The grave was dug up and the casket was burning. So I, uh… thought I'd put it back to rights." John pointed at the shovel, resting on the pile of dirt next to him. "Maybe I should have left it, but it just seemed disrespectful to leave it the way it was."
The cops exchanged a look.
"Actually, sir," the older cop said, stepping closer, "we were watching the area for several minutes before we came over. In fact, we saw you standing over the open grave the entire time. And we heard you talking to someone else."
Dean felt a pang of guilt so acute it made him wince. He was arguing with me over that stupid spare shovel. They must've both been so distracted they hadn't noticed the cops walking up.
"You're mistaken," John said, after a pause. His voice was still controlled and calm, but Dean could hear the underlying strain.
"Sir, did you set that fire?"
John's posture stiffened. "I just told you what happened."
The older cop shook his head. "All right, John, we're taking you into custody. Put your hands behind your back."
Dean's eyes widened. He watched, open-mouthed, as the tall cop cuffed his father, and the other one began patting him down.
Crap, they're going to find—
Too late. The cop was holding up John's Beretta, easily discovered where it had been tucked into the small of his back. "Do you have a license to carry this gun?"
"No sir," his father answered in the clipped tones that meant pissed as hell.
"There's a bottle of lighter fluid here, Nash." The younger cop was holding up a yellow plastic bottle. "We need to search the area, see what else he might have tossed aside around here."
Dean barely had time to duck down behind the headstone before the cop started walking back in his direction.
The pool of light from the flashlight shifted around, first on one side of his hiding place, and then the other. The gleam grew stronger and larger, the footsteps came nearer, and Dean held his breath. The cop couldn't be more than three feet behind him.
Oh, God, if they find me, Sammy's going to be—
His heart was pounding so fast he felt light-headed.
If the cops caught them both, Sam would be left on his own. Dean couldn't imagine a more nightmarish scenario for his little brother, just twelve years old and left to wake up alone, abandoned, with no explanation.
Please not that, he begged, unsure who he was pleading with. I need to get back home. Please, let him move away…
"Too damn dark out here," the cop finally muttered, sounding frustrated. "Can't see a thing, even with the flashlight."
Yes, he breathed.
"Let's take this guy back to the car and call for another patrol. Then one of us'll take him down to the station, and the others can search the area with a floodlight. We'll see if he's got some wheels stashed somewhere around here too."
"All right, then," the other one said, "let's move."
Dean stayed hunched behind the cold marble headstone, listening until the crunch of boots died away. After a few minutes, he heard the faint sound of a car door opening and then slamming shut.
He stood up on shaky legs. He felt hollow, detached, as if the last ten minutes had never happened.
His father, the rock-solid base his world was grounded on, had just been hauled off in handcuffs like a common criminal.
What was he supposed to do now?
He waited uncertainly for another minute, shivering in the dark. There was no procedure for this, no practiced run-through of If-I-ever-get-arrested to fall back on.
The embarrassing truth was, he was half-convinced John was going to come striding back to him any second now, shaking his head in contempt, telling him how he'd managed to convince the cops he was innocent after all. Or, more likely, his father would just escape somehow. Sure he was handcuffed, but maybe he could get one of the cops to release him. He could fake a heart attack or something, or say the cuffs were cutting off his circulation. It was possible, wasn't it?
For a few seconds, he imagined how the two of them would share a nice bonding moment as they rode home, laughing at the incompetence of small-town cops. That was a close one, Dad, he'd say, and his father would give him one of his rare smiles. He could almost hear John telling Caleb all about it in a month or two, throwing back shots of whiskey and embellishing the details, turning the momentary crisis into a favorite war story.
A set of headlights pulling into the parking lot jolted him out of his fantasy. It was the backup patrol car, he realized, and he was standing there like a fool.
He had to leave. Now.
The cop's words suddenly registered on his sluggish brain: "We'll see if he's got some wheels stashed somewhere around here too."
The car. He had to get to the Impala before the cops did—Holy shit, the trunk was loaded with rifles, guns, knives, and fake IDs—and he needed to get home to his brother.
He kept the car's headlights off until he was a mile beyond the cemetery. There were no street lights this far out into the country, and more than once he swerved off the road onto the dirt shoulder. His hands were so shaky on the wheel, it was a miracle he didn't get stopped for erratic driving.
He slipped into their tiny apartment quietly and headed straight for the bathroom. He needed to tell Sam what had happened, but not like this, covered in grave dirt and sweat. There was no reason to wake him up in the middle of the night, anyway. The news could wait till morning, and maybe by then he'd have a plan of action.
He was in charge, and his brother would have a million questions. He needed a few hours to think things through, figure out what he was going to say.
He grimaced at his reflection in the mirror. His face was covered in flecks of dirt, and his hair was spiky with sweat. He looked like a frightened, disheveled kid.
That was never going to cut it.
He splashed cold water on his face and ran his fingers through his hair, then straightened his shoulders and took a deep breath. This time, the boy in the mirror stared back at him coolly, with a hard glint in his eye.
Better. He could handle this. He was the son of a hunter and he didn't panic.
He really was calmer after his shower. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that his father's arrest wasn't necessarily such a catastrophe. It was his first offense, wasn't it? For all John lived on the edge of society, without property in his name or a steady job, he was a law-abiding citizen. Mostly.
True, he had a selection of fake IDs with credit cards to match, but he hadn't actually been caught using them. He paid his taxes—Dean knew this, because he complained about it every year—and drove exactly at the speed limit. As far as John Winchester was concerned, the first law of the Hunter's Creed was Don't draw unwanted attention to yourself, and that meant toeing the line whenever possible.
Plus, his father was a veteran, a Marine. That had to count for something.
Carrying a concealed weapon was a crime, sure, but his father could probably talk his way out of that. There was a Constitutional right to bear arms, right? He remembered learning something about it in civics class, in one of his schools. As for digging up the grave, John hadn't admitted anything and he was innocent until proven guilty.
He'd probably get a fine, but so what. Maybe he'd be put on probation or get community service. Dean had to smile at the thought of his father working in a soup kitchen or reading to the elderly.
He'd seen enough episodes of NYPD Blue to know that once his father was charged, he'd be released on bail. They were pretty low on cash, so maybe his dad could get an advance from his boss at the auto shop. But he'd be home in a day or two, no matter what. Dean just had to hold things together and take care of Sam until then.
No big deal.